Apps

152 posts categorized

June 29, 2015

Uber Goes App-less With SMS Version

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Last month, Uber and Coding Dojo hosted a 48-hour hackathon competition in San Jose—a student and alumni challenge to generate ideas that would improve Uber’s impact on the community. The winner of the contest was TextBer, an SMS version of Uber’s popular smartphone app that will allow non-smartphone users to access the service using basic text messaging.  

The idea isn’t as passé as one might think. While it’s easy to take smartphones for granted in the age of instant-access, the TextBer team focused on people who are marginalized from services like Uber due to various circumstances.  

According to an April study by Pew Research Center, only 27% of adults over 65 have smartphones; half of all adults making less than $30,000 a year are without smart devices as well. However, many of these individuals have the ability to send text messages using their mobile devices, which is precisely what TextBer aims to capitalize on in their SMS version. 

“My grandfather has Alzheimer’s,” said Arash Namvar, one of TextBer’s developers. “…TextBer allows him to easily get an Uber ride from his house to my house. It makes me feel better because he’s safe.” 

Namvar and four other creators spent several hours brainstorming the dilemma before they decided to construct TextBer for the contest, which is currently in beta and utilizing UberX car—Uber’s lower-cost product. 

 

How it Works 

Using a desktop computer, users create an Uber account with a credit card and link their TextBer account with a specific cell phone number. To receive the service, users simply text a pickup and dropoff address to TextBer. A time estimate and quote will be texted back to the user’s cell phone, at which time they can approve the message and dispatch the driver. 

 

Going Forward

The current version of TextBer is limited to UberX vehicles and SMS messaging; however, the team of creators hopes to build more features that will benefit the visually impaired and those with disabilities.  

Other features discussed may include default home settings and common location identifiers so users wouldn’t have to type repetitive information.

SMS is an affordable alternative for service-based communications, which may grow in popularity as this SMS service moves forward through production. In addition to helping users without smartphones, this service will hopefully provide a service that makes life a little easier (and safer) for those in need of a driver; regardless of age, economic status or smartphone.  

 

 

June 25, 2015

Mobile Tech & the Travel Industry: What's Hot and What's Not

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According to Euromonitor, by 2017 over 30% of online travel bookings by value will occur over mobile devices. This is thought to result from online travel companies making their apps more attractive via location services helping travelers find the nearest hotels and restaurants. Vacation booking habits have changed dramatically according to new research from BuzzCity, as there’s been a 50% increase in mobile usage by business and leisure travelers. Some 30% of these travelers use mobile devices for last-minute bookings. 

It subsequently follows that travel companies need to make certain their websites are mobile-friendly so navigation is straightforward and users can enjoy a personalized, engaging experience. Since mobile use is increasing “the norm,” travel companies that don’t capitalize on mobile friendliness will certainly lose out. Whether via mobile, laptop, or tablet, such companies must strive to create a personalized, streamlined user experience. 

Personalization is definitely key. Some 74% of online consumers admit frustration when dealing with irrelevant content, as “bringing personalization at the early stages of travel inspiration” influences browsing and subsequently purchasing decisions. 

Apps remain a vital part of the mobile device user experience, according to Google’s 2014 travel study. 

“Leisure travelers mostly book via mobile websites, while business travelers mostly book via apps – both types of booking method are still key,” the study noted. Concerning those who booked trips on a device in 2014, 45% were leisure travelers booking via a mobile site on a browser, and 55% were business travelers. 

“Getting the experience right” is also critical for travel companies in 2015 and beyond, as conversion optimization is another essential digital priority. Since so many travelers book their vacations and business trips online, there’s no room for error in regards to the booking and check out progress. Frustrating user experiences make innovative marketing strategies to drive website traffic a waste. 

Travelers increasingly want the inside scoop on a hotel or location, with the “mobile augmented reality market” expected to increase to $5.1 billion by 2016 according to e-strategy/Juniper. For example, Marriott Hotels is currently using Oculus Rift developer versions to sell honeymoon packages. It makes it possible for newly-hitched couples in New York to immediately fly to romantic destinations such as Hawaii and London. 

This year is looking to be an interesting one for the travel industry, with the “battle for bookings” comprised of much more than owning big data. It’s in the way companies interpret said data and use it to create highly-personalized, highly-convenient user experiences across all platforms.   

 

June 24, 2015

5 MMS Marketing Tactics

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MMS marketing has been around for a few years, but when it comes to launching a new product or promotion, most business still limit themselves to SMS messaging. Mobile coupons and other offers are usually plain text affairs, and the popularity of shortcodes and keywords has caused many businesses to lose sight of the bigger picture.

This is somewhat surprising given the wide availability of MMS, which allows brands to entice customers with images as well as words. If you’re interested in harnessing the power of rich media to give your mobile marketing campaign a shot in the arm, consider the following applications of MMS:

 

Show & Tell

The visual element that’s so important to advertising has taken a backseat in text message marketing. Sure, you can (and should) include a link to your website, but in the hyper-competitive world of modern marketing, the fewer steps the consumer needs to take, the better. The food industry is probably the most obvious beneficiary of image-based advertising; MMS allows you to send the 2-for-1 pizza promo deal and a tasty picture of the pie. Visual stimulus will get mouths watering far more than mere words.

 

Text to Win

Use your existing subscriber base to introduce loyal customers to new products with MMS. To generate interaction, run a competition with the product shown as the prize.

 

Text to Reserve

Again, mobile marketing tactics that use SMS messaging can be modified for MMS. If you run a restaurant, send picture messages of the latest meal specials and offer a time-limited promo deal to respondents.  

 

Text to Vote

Running a poll or survey can be more effective with MMS than with standard text messaging. Encourage subscribers to vote on which appetizer they would prefer, along with a picture of each dish. Set up keywords to represent each appetizer (WINGS/SOUP-DU-JOUR/etc) and allow respondents to vote on the nicest looking dish, or the dish they’d prefer to see on your menu. Not only will you encourage engagement by the vote, you’ll have created targeted lists of customers based on food preference.  

 

Text to Connect

Stay in touch with subscribers with the right MMS campaign and you’ll see interaction increase. As long as you offer something of value, the underlying impetus behind your campaign can simply be to remain connected with your customer base. Keep such messages to a minimum. A ‘text to connect’ picture message should only be used if you don’t have any current promos, you haven’t reached out to your contacts for a while and you can create a special offer to be included in the message.

June 22, 2015

Will Apple's Taptic Engine Make it to Mobile?

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Apple’s latest innovation is the Taptic Engine, a new feature for their smartwatch as well as the 13-inch MacBook Pro. Utilizing a research lab technique engineered 20 years ago, the technology features an electromagnetic motor that “tricks your fingers into feeling things that aren’t actually there.” This is due to the motor’s oscillation, which potentially promises a future full of smartphones and desktop trackpads where fingers are used to feel rather than touch interfaces.  

Named Force Touch, Apple has touted the technology as the "most significant new sensing capability since Multi-Touch," which foreshadows the idea of using the technology for the iPhone, etc. Its use in the MacBook trackpad, for example, presents something more sophisticated than the almost base motors used to make smartphones and game controllers vibrate.  

“Today’s Apple announcement made possible by Margaret Minsky’s lateral-force haptic texture synthesis research, 20 years ago,” former Apple designer Bret Victor wrote in a tweet. Minsky’s 1995 doctoral thesis focused on simulating texture with lateral force using a “custom software environment called Sandpaper.” Minksy discovered applying specific patterns of horizontal force to a joystick made it possible for users to “feel” assorted textures. Amplitude adjustment changed the effect, with a key point of Minksy’s work that sideways spring forces frequently feel like downward spring forces when touched by fingertips. 

 “It is, in the Apple way, very well engineered,” haptics pioneer Vincent Hayward of McGill University said of Apple’s Taptic Engine. “There’s a lot of attention to detail. It’s a very simple and very clever electromagnetic motor.” 

The potential to use the engine in a number of applications is somewhat outlined in Apple’s release notes: “When dragging a video clip to its maximum length, you’ll get feedback letting you know you’ve hit the end of the clip. Add a title and you’ll get feedback as the title snaps into position at the beginning or end of a clip. Subtle feedback is also provided with the alignment guides that appear in the Viewer when cropping clips.”

Does this mean “Bumpy Pixels” are the proverbial wave of the future? Hayward imagines a variety of possibilities. 

“It could make interaction more realistic, or useful, or entertaining, or pleasant,” he noted. “That becomes the job of the user experience designer.”

Should the Taptic Engine appear in the iPhone, the result could include keyboards where you feel the grooves in between the letters, or feel texture while skimming Instagram or playing a game. Hayward believes the iPhone potential is definitely there, it simply requires creating a motor that’s powerful and battery-efficient enough for such devices. 

“More interesting paradigms really are around the corner,” he said. “They already exist in labs. If you come to Paris, I can show you some things that you will have in phones in 10 years. Or maybe five years. Or two years, if we’re lucky.”

 

June 19, 2015

Are App Store Video Previews Worth the Investment?

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Trying to stand out from the rest of the apps for sale on the App Store presents a big challenge for app developers. The App Store currently features some 1.2 million iOS apps, with developers using screen shots and simple text to attract buyers. Videos were used to build momentum outside of the App Store, however Apple is changing that...or attempting to, anyway. 

The launch of iOS 8 meant app developers had the opportunity to upload 30-second videos to iTunes Connect, as well as other app updates and marketing materials. App Store visitors see video thumbnails, or what Apple calls poster frames, next to app screenshots. Store visitors simply have to hit ‘play’ buttons to launch a full-screen video showcasing what’s fantastic about the app.  

Videos are designed to provide visitors with a “realistic experience” regarding the app in question, and function more as demos than anything else. Music is important to the mood and theme of the video, though narrated videos and those featuring animated text and graphics are also accepted by Apple. The company does not allow personal data and real names to be used in the videos.  

This tool has been in use for nearly a year, but its effectiveness is up for debate. Creating a visually-pleasing video that really sells why an app rocks isn’t an inexpensive venture, with even basic productions very costly compared to screenshot designs. Video expense subsequently limits A/B testing for an app page, and the possibility of producing a variety of previews is limited as well. Screenshots, in comparison, are easy to create and allow app developers to experiment with different styles to determine what their target audience likes most.  

Another problem with app preview videos is the constantly-evolving nature of the industry. Even the coolest, most professionally-executed videos can become outdated in an instant, forcing developers to produce more general, less creative videos that “justify investment” and are essentially evergreen. This in combination with Apple’s video guidelines and rules presents a serious challenge to developers. 

Videos even spell a bit of doom in regard to app page conversion rates. The perfect “app page experience” is one that creates a “compelling user experience.” This means the longer a user takes to decide whether they want the app or not, the more the developer has to lose. Screenshots are subsequently the better marketing tool, as they simply provide users with specific app highlights rather than a “deep exploration” of the product. The idea is to quickly convince users to install the app, not compel them to think about it.  

If a developer does decide to create a video preview for an app, it helps to focus on two or three specific features the screenshot cannot convey, refrain from mentioning discounts or seasonal offers, and ensure content is rated 4+, or appropriate for all audiences. 

June 18, 2015

Adblockers are Costing Google Billions

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According to a recent report from anti-adblock tech firm PageFair, Google lost $6.6 billion in global revenue to ad blockers in 2014. The rise of ad blocking is becoming quite problematic for digital media companies, with Google so far taking the brunt of it.  

The $6.6 billion accounts for 10 percent of Google’s total revenue for last year. PageFair used Google's own revenue numbers as well as market data from research companies eMarketer and comScore to predict Google's total potential ad revenues from YouTube, search, AdSense, and DoubleClick. AdSense and DoubleClick are Google’s display advertising properties.  

"This is a relatively small sum for a global corporation with revenues of nearly $60 billion, while being a huge cash injection for a fast-growing adblocking startup in Cologne,” PageFair wrote in a blog post. “It is not credible that these funds are simply being spent on the administration of the acceptable ads program. Instead, they are presumably being reinvested in the future development of adblocking ... Although paying Adblock Plus may recover some short-term search engine revenue, it also tightens the adblocking stranglehold on the remainder of Google’s revenue." 

Adblock Plus is one of the most popular ad blockers of the moment, and the company PageFair referred to regarding its $6.6 billion figure for Google. The adblocker provides internet companies with the chance for their ads to be whitelisted should they meet an "acceptable ads" policy. Acceptable ads include what ad blockers consider non-intrusive, such as sponsored search links. Yet according to The Financial Times, bigger digital advertising companies such as Google, Microsoft, Amazon, and Taboola must pay Adblock Plus substantial fees — up to 30 percent of additional ad revenues if their ads weren’t blocked. 

Google’s lost revenue would have been much higher if not for the digital juggernaut’s whitelisting deal with Adblock Plus, which excluded search ads from the ad blocker’s filter. Google reportedly paid Adblock Plus $25 million to exclude search ads, but subsequently “saved” $3.5 billion in 2014.

Doubleclick and AdSense got “the worst of it,” and together lost Google $2.1 billion globally in 2014. YouTube, in comparison, lost $675 million in 2014 due to pre-roll ad blocking.

“The actual global adblocking rate is probably about five per cent, while the percentage of adblocked dollars is much higher,” Pagefair CEO and co-founder Sean Blanchfield told Mobile Marketing. “There is very low adblocking among many non-western countries, where access is primarily mobile, but where the ad spend is lower.”

Neither Google nor Adblock Plus have commented on the PageFair report at this time.

June 12, 2015

Millennials Prefer Apps to Ads

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Mobile marketing provides a business with the ability to reach customers and potential customers anywhere at any time. And while this is a great, great concept, other businesses are attempting the exact same thing. It therefore follows that trying to stand out from competitors gets tricky.

Those interested in reaching millennials need to realize that the key to mobile marketing isn’t about ads, no matter how snazzy they may be. It’s about apps. 

 

Why Millennials Matter 

Wondering why millennials matter in the first place? According to a study by Oracle, 85 percent of people ages 18 to 34 fit the “Millennial” label, and currently own a smartphone. This sizable chunk of the population bought a whole lot of smartphones in the past year, rising 23 percent in 2014 from the previous year. This indicates that millennials are not only using smartphones, but that interest in the devices is increasing. 

 

Their Mobile Activity

So what do millennials use their smartphones for? A wide range of things, according to Oracle. This includes paying bills, using social media, researching local businesses, and more. Millennials use their apps for the majority of these activities--for example, the social media juggernaut Instagram is an app. Oracle notes the top three reported uses regarding apps are 1) uploading media content (75 percent), 2) product purchasing (74 percent), and transferring funds to a friend (61 percent). 

It was also reported that across all usage options, millennials went for smartphones over tablets two to one. 

 

Using Apps Effectively 

The main proverbial road block regarding apps and the brands that utilize them is the near-constant maintenance and development. While not exactly cheap, it’s still very possible to utilize apps and see a return on investment. Check it out: 

  • Performance Over Features: Go for performance instead of features, as poor performance and speed are the main reasons millennials eskew apps. 
  • Account/Money Management: If possible, provide user accounts and or money management through your app. Millennials are huge fans of using apps to make purchases and deal with billing. 
  • Sharing is Caring: Share deals, discounts, event information, and other fun stuff on your apps, but don’t go overboard. While millennials enjoy receiving regular app updates, they don’t enjoy being inundated. Think of how often websites and social media channels provide updates and ensure you don’t exceed them. 

Wrap-Up

If your brand isn’t as hip in the app department as you’d like, don’t despair. Find ways of utilizing existing apps to your mobile marketing advantage, or try partnering with other companies and their subsequent apps to improve your audience’s experience. 

 

 

June 10, 2015

SMS is Preferable to Messaging Apps, Says Survey

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Sure, numerous messaging apps have cropped up in recent years, with the Facebook Messaging app being the most popular. Yet despite the rise in messaging apps, many prefer the classic text message option. According to a new survey conducted by RingCentral, most prefer SMS to messaging apps, and 80 percent of the 509 people surveyed said they used texting for business. RingCentral is a cloud-based communications system for SMBs with “desktop and mobile apps, SMS capabilities and a variety of additional features.” 

Most survey participants were between the ages of 25 and 34. Some 48 percent of respondents have one or two messaging apps on their phones, with 30 percent having three or four. This isn’t exactly shocking, as most don’t want their phones cluttered with a bunch of messaging apps they don’t use. Several (41 percent) used two messaging apps regularly, though 36 percent of people surveyed said they didn’t feel overwhelmed by using more than one method for checking their messages every day.  

As far as the actual messaging apps go, Facebook is the favorite, followed by WhatsApp and Snapchat.  

The survey also looked at how many texts participants sent and received per day, how long they go without responding to a text, and why they preferred text messages to IM. Most said they send and receive between one and 20 messages every day, respond to messages two to 11 minutes after receiving them, and prefer traditional texting because it’s the simpler, easier, faster option. About 72 percent of participants clearly favored texting. 

Arguably more direct, traditional texting is much less difficult to ignore or miss than messaging apps. And while 80 percent of survey participants said they used texting for business, email is still widely considered the more professional option. Conducting business over IM is perceived as too casual and personal.  

“This employee feedback in our survey suggests the dire needs for companies to adopt the right business communication tools, policies and procedures to empower texting, calling, messaging, and online meetings—through more efficient communication platforms—at work,” RingCentral’s Carolyn Shmunis wrote on the company blog. “As new communication preferences emerge, employees and employers must devise a system that prevents communication overload, while enabling efficient communication both internally and externally. Preparing employees with the right tools to call, text or message one another should remain a top priority to help workplace productivity and efficiency.” 

Shmunis also noted that the survey takeaway is very clear: Texting may be the preferred option to IM, however it’s still important for businesses to “be better well-equipped to communicate with all modes of communication effectively.” 

 

June 02, 2015

How Do Kids Use Mobile?

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As web-enabled mobile devices proliferate among the adult population, it’s not surprising that kids are getting their hands on their parents smartphones and tablets. The use of mobile technology among children of all ages has exploded over the past few years - even as overall screen media exposure had declined.

A 2013 study from Common Sense Media showed that 89% of American children had used a mobile device that year - up from 38% just two years prior. On average, children under the age of eight were using smartphones and tablets almost as much as tweens and teens, with 75% having access to a mobile device during 2013. Even babies are getting in on the mobile revolution, with 38% of under-twos having used a mobile device. 

Since the research two years ago, there have been no significant studies on children’s usage of mobile technology, but given the soaring rates of smartphone adoption in the United States, the number of kids using them is unlikely to have dropped. According to an Ericsson report from last year, the number of mobile devices per family is increasing, with 90% of U.S. households having three or more web-connected devices; almost half have five or more devices, and nearly 25% of households have seven or more.  

But there’s a twist. The Common Sense Media research indicates a drop-off in average screen time among youngsters. Television still accounts for about half of the two hours of average daily screen time for kids, with the rest being spent on DVDs, video games, computers and mobile devices. But that overall average screen time (1h55 minutes) is 21 minutes less than it was in 2011. 

Could that be an anomaly? Or are parents becoming more responsive to concerns about the perils of continuous exposure to screens? More research is needed to demonstrate that, but with investment in mobile marketing at an all time high, studies like this are never far away.

June 01, 2015

Should I Use an SMS Aggregator for Mobile Marketing?

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The whole idea behind sending SMS (short message service) messages is in the name--you’re sending a short message that you expect sent in a short amount of time. The right bulk SMS provider is therefore essential to ensure messages are sent in a timely fashion. However not all providers, or aggregators, are of the same quality. 

Understanding the difference between good and bad aggregators means understanding the history of SMS, grey routes included. Check it out: 

 

A Brief History Lesson

SMS technology came about in the 1980s as a method of sending messages to offline or otherwise unavailable mobile phones. Messages were (and still are) up to 160 characters in length, and use a ‘store and forward’ approach, meaning messages are stored and sent once a mobile link is established. SMS also uses a signaling channel in that it does not interfere with phone calls--sending and receiving messages is possible while on a call. 

Few realized how popular SMS would become when the first text message was sent in 1992. Mainly viewed as a way for professionals to page each other, it quickly became a easy way to communicate anywhere, anytime. SMS use “exploded” in 1999 when it became possible to text regardless of whether the receiver was in your network or not. Especially popular among teens and adults, texting also served as a less expensive communication option. 

Telecommunication companies set up international roaming networks as well so those traveling internationally could still send texts to loved ones at home. The subsequent adoption of SS7 (Signaling System #7) was a way to facilitate global P2P SMS.

Telco companies have never charged each other interconnect fees for sending P2P SMS across networks. When a person sends a message, the receiver usually replies, thus cancelling fees out. 

 

Aggregator Origins

Eventually assorted entrepreneurs found a way to send SMS messages to vast numbers of mobile phones through a computer. All that was required was a Global Title, which provided a network identity and allowed them to send traffic on SS7 roaming networks. 

This resulted in aggregators, or non-telco companies that allowed businesses to send bulk SMS. Such companies did not have individual customers, and created issues for telcos by sending huge numbers of SPAM messages. Other aggregators went for illegal grey routes. 

Grey routes were used to send messages to recipients in other countries without paying networks for message delivery. And while some aggregators don’t use grey routes, they do utilize least cost routing (LCR), which usually involves passing messages through several aggregators. It is not considered a reliable means of communication. 

 

Wrap-Up 

Grey routes not only interfere with legitimate SMS traffic, they also cost telecommunication companies millions of dollars in lost revenue every year. A grey route crackdown by telecos has resulted, with companies working with trusted aggregators only. 

So when debating whether an aggregator is right for your mobile marketing campaign, remember that old piece of advice: if it seems too good to be true, it probably is. Go for aggregators who have direct relationships with telcos--you may pay more, but the investment is very much worth it.